Monkeypox, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
By Elisha Singira
Given the risk that Monkeypox poses globally, it has now been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The decision was arrived at after the WHO emergency committee assessed the required limits of an outbreak being declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
“A month ago, I convened the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to assess whether the multi-country monkeypox outbreak represented a public health emergency of international concern. At the time, 3040 cases of monkeypox had been reported to WHO, from 47 countries. Since then, the outbreak has continued to grow, and there are now more than 16 thousand reported cases from 75 countries and territories and five deaths,” said to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in a press briefing.
Among the evidence considered include the information provided by countries – which in this case shows that this virus has spread rapidly to many countries that have not experienced it before; the three criteria for declaring a public health emergency of international concern (serious, sudden, unusual), the risk to human health, international spread, and the potential for interference with international traffic.
According to the assessment, the risk of monkeypox is moderate in other regions except in the European region. There is also a clear risk of further international spread, although the risk of interference with international traffic remains low at the moment.
He said that the outbreak had spread rapidly around the world through new modes of transmission yet the world had little understanding of it despite meeting the International Health Regulations criteria.
For the countries that have not yet reported a case of monkeypox, or have not reported a case for more than 21 days, WHO recommends that they activate or establish health and multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms to strengthen all aspects of readiness for responding to monkeypox and stop human-to-human transmission, implement, interventions to avoid the stigmatization and discrimination against any individual that may be affected by monkeypox and intensify epidemiological disease surveillance among other recommendations.
For those that have reported cases of monkeypox and that are experiencing human-to-human transmission, they are required to implement a coordinated response towards the outbreak, engage and protect communities,provide surveillance and public health measures towards the disease and to establish clinical management and infection prevention and control.
However, countries which are,States Parties, with known or suspected zoonotic transmission of monkeypox have been advised to activate collaborative One Health between public health, and veterinary departments and to undertake detailed case investigations and studies to characterize transmission patterns, including suspected or documented spillovers from spillback to animals.
In addition, countries which have the manufacturing capacity for diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics have been told to raise production and availability of medical countermeasures and the manufacturers to work with WHO to ensure these supplies and others are made available based on public health needs, solidarity and at reasonable cost to countries where they are most needed to support efforts to stop the onward spread of monkeypox.
The Director General further stated that although he was declaring a public health emergency of international concern, for the moment this is an outbreak that is concentrated among men who have sex with men, especially those with multiple sexual partners. He noted that with the right strategies, the outbreak at hand could be stopped.
He further advised that all countries work closely with communities of men who have sex with men, to design and deliver effective information and services, and to adopt measures that protect the health, human rights and dignity of affected communities.